Liberals Insist on High-speed Internet as a “Basic Service”

by Jordan Richardson on November 3, 2010

Liberal MP Marc Garneau warned the CRTC on Tuesday that Canadians without access to advanced broadband internet risk becoming “second-class citizens.”

“Just as the railway and the Trans-Canada [Highway] were the critical infrastructure that linked our communities in the 20th century, fibre optics, wireless and satellites will be the critical infrastructure that links our society in the 21st century,” Mr. Garneau, said.

Garneau is the Liberal party’s critic for industry, science and technology.

As many know, the CRTC is currently working through several aspects of its mandate with respect to rural and remote broadband access in Canada. One of the key considerations on the table is whether or not the regulator should oversee basic internet services on the same grounds that they oversee basic phone services. Should a similar apparatus of regulation be upheld in terms of basic internet service, one has to imagine that a bottom line definition of what that “basic internet service” entails would soon follow.

Hence the remarks from Garneau.

Most analysts agree that any sort of policy regarding broadband internet service in Canada has to come from the politicians and not the regulatory body. Any policy insisting on broadband access to the far reaches of the nation would be, without question, incredibly expensive. MTS Allstream stated last week that the rollout of broadband into rural and remote areas would cost around $7 billion and that’s not something the corporate sector is going to adopt, especially when their current policies of resistance clearly in play.

Even so, Garneau is on to something with the basic thrust of his message. Modern telecommunications are the critical infrastructure linking our society on a national level and, more importantly, on an international level. With the vast majority of internet content nearly demanding broadband access in order to be workable, it becomes clear that a digital gulf in which some lack the proper access could prove dangerous in a democratic society.

As usually seems to be the case, Canada’s telecommunications giants generally oppose the suggestions of Mr. Garneau. Their typical stance has rarely altered, even as small ISPs in far-fling communities struggle to provide adequate service. With service disconnections and difficulties proving damaging to businesses and individuals trying to work out a living in remote areas, the necessity of broadband service starts to become clear.

But the problem isn’t the question as to whether or not broadband should be a basic service at all. The real problem, at least in my opinion, is in the implementing of such an enormous project. Canadians need broadband internet service, even in the cursed rural areas, but how it gets there is another story altogether.

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